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Working From Home: How to Survive

One of the ways the world has reacted to COVID-19 is to send workers home. Twenty years ago that would have meant massive layoffs. These days it just means that your cubicle is now your dining table. Working from home sounds easy- and it is! But it has some hidden “gotchas” that will trip up a first timer. And since there are thousands of first-timers now working from home due to COVID-19, I thought I’d share my own experiences and failures so that you can benefit from them.

You Still Need To Commute

Remember when you’d get out of bed, take care of personal hygiene, put on clothes, and then drive to work? You still need to do that- minus the driving to work part, of course. When I started working from home in 2011, I didn’t do these things, and it affected me in every negative way you can think of.

You need to wear pants.

It is vital that you let your mind know, in no uncertain terms, that you are now at work. How can you do this? This is the Work From Home commute.

Instead of rolling out of bed and over to your laptop, or worse yet, bringing your laptop to bed, you need to do all the same things you used to do. Get up, take care of your hygiene, get some clothes on, get some coffee, and then go somewhere other than your bedroom to work. Where might that be?

A Dedicated Working Space

You need a work space that is separate from the rest of your life for as much as that is possible. If you are single and live alone, this will probably be easy. If you have a family, this may be a bit harder. Your work space does not need to be elaborate, but it does need to be distraction free and as much as possible, dedicated to work. Do you have a walk in closet? Clear out half of it. Do you have a laundry room? Set up a small desk.

The dining table might be a tempting spot, but if it’s a highly trafficked area during working hours, then it may present a problem. Regardless of where you work in your home, both you and your family, friends, roommates, etc, need boundaries. They should know that when you’re in your work space, you are at work. This can be difficult, but not making a clear distinction only makes the adjustment harder. Do it right away!

Work is not Life is not Work

At the end of your work day, make a point to get away from your computer for at least half an hour. Go for a short walk, play with your dog or cat, or say hello to your family. If you’re going to spend more time at the computer, that’s fine- but don’t do it for at least half an hour after you’re done at work for the day. Your mind needs to know the difference between work and play, and such physical cues as walking away can really help. You can also even go as far as changing into less formal clothes the same as you would after arriving home from a day in the office. Do what works for you, but make sure you do something.

Working From Home With Your PC

Many employers will provide a computer for your to take home, but some may ask you to use your personal computer and equipment. If this is the case, then I’d recommend that you make a separate work profile in your computer. Sign into it only for work, and sign out of it at the end of the day. Set the background to the same as you had at your office so that it feels like work.

Your employer may require you to video conference in meetings and phone calls. This is a good thing. You can get setup very inexpensively with a Microsoft webcam and a Logitech headset for about $50 total on Amazon. I find the Logitech headsets to be very very good.

You also need a good chair. If you’re being sent home from an office, then ask if you can take your office chair with you. A good chair for long term comfort is expensive but very important. I know this from experience. Cheap chairs cause pain. The cheaper the chair, the worse the pain. Believe me.

Lastly, make sure you have a good keyboard and a second monitor. This makes life a lot easier. If you’re working with a little laptop, but are used to a big 24″ monitor, then by all means get a 24″ monitor. And if you’re trying to type on that little laptop keyboard all day every day, I have one word of advice: don’t! An inexpensive mechanical keyboard will make your hands much happier.

Interacting with Others from Home

The main thing we really lose when we work from home is that personal interaction. For an Introvert, it feels like a dream, at first! But even the most hard core introvert needs human interaction. Hopefully your employer will provide you with something like Slack so that you can have chats with others very easily. If not, ask your employer to provide something.

When you call your coworkers, do it via video. See their face and hear their voice, it makes a difference. If your communication is primarily text, then take this to heart:
Assume the best of others!
Vast amounts of information is lost when we only communicate with text. A silly sarcastic giggle in person can come across like a snide jab straight to the heart with a stiletto, in text. Don’t assume the worst of people, and cut them some slack even if they do offend you. Communicating via text only is hard, and some people aren’t very good at it. You might be one of them!

Get Up and Move That Body

Yup, that’s right. You need to move around. Working from home can be tough because we naturally don’t move around as much! Make sure to stand up and stretch out at least hourly. For your eyes, follow the 20-20-20 rule: Look away for 20 seconds at an object 20 feet away every 20 minutes. This is easier if you put your office next to a window to look out at the world.

Make a point to spend time outdoors and around other people.Face time isn’t just an app, it’s a way of dealing with the actual loneliness that some encounter when working from home.

In Conclusion

Really we’ve only scratched the surface in this short article, but these are some of the things that people generally have the hardest time with when starting out. If you want to boil it down to just a few simple things, then let it be the following:

  • Keep a routine
  • Don’t work in your pajamas
  • Have a dedicated workspace
  • Pay attention to being comfortable
  • Assume the best of others
  • Maintain separation between work and everything else
  • Spend time with Real People too

If you do these things, you should have a great time working from home.

Questions? Comments? Ask in the comments below, and I’ll be glad to answer them.

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